In December last year the government published a document headed “How schools are going to make £3bn worth of efficiency savings, and the opportunity this brings”

The Education Secretary Justine Greening said that “Funding every child fairly and according to their specific needs sits at the heart of delivering the government’s pledge to build a country that works for everyone, not just the privileged few.

“The government has protected the core schools budget in real terms since 2010, but the system for distributing that funding across the country is unfair, opaque and outdated. It is based on patchy and inconsistent decisions that have built up over many years and on data that is over a decade old. This outmoded system allows similar schools with similar students to receive levels of funding so different that it puts many young people at an educational disadvantage.

“Currently, disparities in the current school funding system mean a school could get 50% more if it were situated in another part of the country.”

As a result the government published what it called its “fair funding proposals”, replacing the current system with “a new formula to ensure that children with similar characteristics and similar needs attract similar levels of funding - regardless of where their families happen to live.”

The national funding formula for England due to be introduced from 2018 to 2019 proposed that

  • more than 10,000 schools will gain funding, including more than 3,000 receiving an increase of more than 5% - up to 3% in per pupil funding in 2018 to 2019 and a further 2.5% in 2019 to 2020
  • no school will face a reduction of more than more than 1.5% per pupil per year or 3% per pupil overall
  • for pupils with high-level special educational needs no area will see the funding reduce.

We are now in the consultation period for the new funding formula. 

The first response came from the National Audit Office raised concerns that the Department for Education had failed to outline how schools could make £3bn worth of efficiency savings as part of this changeover.

However Jonathan Slater, the permanent secretary at the DfE, has now told the public accounts committee that these efficiency savings expected by government were “doable” without larger class sizes, curriculum changes or damaging pupil performance.

Meg Hillier, the chair of the public accounts committee, replied, “This report shows you have got a very ambitious savings target ... there is a disconnect between what you are asking schools to do and your knowledge and understanding of what the impact will be on pupil attainment.”

To which the permanent secretary said, “I would not say it’s easy. I would say it’s doable, because I have seen evidence of schools doing it.”

He also suggested that schools could be involved in training schemes related to apprenticeships - which will be funded by a levy of 0.5% of all organisations, which have a salary bill of over £3m a year.

Furthermore Mr Slater said that schools that fell into debt would be asked to take on loans.

In further evidence headteachers were invited to say how they were making savings, but it was clear from the evidence that no real re-thinking of the way schooling works was going on.  Instead there was talking about having schools cleaned less often, the grass cut less often, and stopping the upgrading of ICT systems while cutting on-going staff training.

What there wasn’t, was any mention of using ICT systems (which have been shown to be easily as efficient as teachers in the classroom) for part of the factual teaching programmes - a system which not only raises results, but also dramatically cuts costs by reducing the number of teachers needed.

Of course, it is phenomenally expensive to make teachers redundant and so the most likely result will be simply not to replace teachers who leave.  This will result in a complete re-think of what happens in schools, and there is no doubt in my mind that companies which provide radical alternatives to the biggest expenditure that schools have (ie staff costs) will begin to make significant sales.

This is not to say that just the big computer companies will make money, but rather that any firm that offers ways of doing what schools do now, but at much less cost, will have the chance to make significant sales.

For example, in parts of the USA this has resulted in school students studying for only half the day at school, and working at home or in computer centres for the other half of the day.  Likewise continuing professional development can be undertaken from the study of a particular book or even an article, with those interested then attending a voluntary after-school seminar run by the teachers themselves.

There are many options for efficiency savings without reducing the quality of the education, and suppliers who find these are likely to find that rather than sales declining they are growing.